May 15, 2011
Watson has virtuoso performance
With apologies to Knute Rockne and lesser one’s to Ronald Reagan, “Win one for the Gipper” was replaced by “Win one for the Whipper” on Sunday afternoon.
Of course in typical Bob (Whipper) Watson fashion, the Toronto Rock goalie wasn’t about to let anyone do anything for him without doing plenty himself first.
The retiring 15-year NLL veteran has been the focus of the media and his Rock teammates since the playoffs began. He brought the attention on himself by announcing to one and all that this would be it for him, championship or not.
The long week leading into the championship final with defending champion Washington Stealth, looking for back-to-back titles had everyone on edge, none moreso than Watson, who was forced to handle more media than he would normally prefer.
Watson though somehow tuned out all the retirement talk and put in his normal stellar playoff performance.
He was particularly on his game in the first half when he and a vastly underrated Rock defence corps held the high-scoring visitors from Washington to just two goals on 23 shots.
That performance helped the Rock build a 7-2 lead and the team would need every bit of that as the Rock offence dried up in the second half and the Washington scorers began to find the range.
Watson yielded a few more in that second half but lived up to his big-game reputation never fully giving up the lead. The closest the Stealth would come was a goal.
The Stealth’s Paul Rabil scored with 7:38 remaining in the game to cut the Toronto lead to 8-7, but Watson and company held the fort the rest of the way.
“What focus and what determination to put everything aside and just play one of the best games of his life,” Rock captain Colin Doyle said. “It speaks volumes to the kind of player he is.”
Watson readily admits that given the choice he would shy away from the spotlight but knowing that wasn’t going to be an option, Watson came out of his shell this week and played the media game.
“I knew it was one last time and I just had to get through it,” Watson said.
The fact that he didn’t let it distract him from yet another virtuoso performance on Sunday was possibly his greatest achievement of the week.
Now that it’s over and the championship is safely back in Toronto hands, Watson can go out on top.
It is a select group of athletes who get to retire at the very top of their game, and Watson is determined not to let anything sway him from losing his spot in that club.
So don’t expect a last second change of mind. He has a young family that he feels he must put first not to mention a relatively new career with the Waterloo police department.
“I have had a great career,” he said. “My goal was to play until I was 40. I played until I was 41. I’m going out a champion. What more could you ask for? There’s no need to put my family though this anymore.”
Watson will retire with six NLL titles to his name, three MVP titles to match the three Doyle has.
Doyle at 33 years of age does not foresee following in Watson’s footsteps and playing into his 40’s.
“No, absolutely not,” Doyle said. “I’m barely envisioning myself doing it right now. I will be well done by 41.”
The storybook ending to the storybook career even had members of the losing side tipping their cap to Watson, none moreso than 24-year-old Washington keeper Tyler Richards.
Richards, no slouch himself in the net on the afternoon, holding the Rock to a lone goal in the second half and giving his team a shot to get back in it, felt the lead-up to the game was dominated at times by the Watson retirement talk. But Watson changed that pretty quick once the game began.
“There was a lot of focus on it obviously, but once we started the game, he took it over and it became less about him retiring and more about the performance he put on the floor.”
Richards was just 12 when he first started watching Watson on television from his Coquitlam, B.C., home. He was impressed enough that he started borrowing parts of Watson’s game like the way he held his stick.
Richards isn’t sure he’ll make it until 41, but he’s not ruling out a 15-year career to match Watson.
“I’d love to, but it takes a lot of dedication,” Richards said. “If I can play at 41, I’ll still be here, and if I can play like he did at 41, I’ll be absolutely thrilled.”
Safe to say we would all like to go out the way Bob Watson did on Sunday.